November 19th, 2016 7:37 AM by Jackie A. Graves, President
Using these tips
to fix gaps, cracks and inefficiencies will make your home cozier and more
affordable in cold weather.
Heating costs can throw a wrench
into your winter budget. But you can limit the losses by addressing the
gaps, cracks and waste that drive up fuel costs. Such fixes are available
at a lower price than you might imagine.
Run through this checklist of
fixes to make your house cozier and your heating more affordable this year.
Check your home’s exterior doors
for cold air leaks. Do this from inside the house. The high-tech approach is to
use a laser infrared thermal gun to detect cold drafts. The low-tech way is to
move a lit candle around the door frame; the flame
will blow toward you in a draft.
Seal a drafty door by installing
foam or felt weatherstripping inside the door frame. Ask at
your hardware store for the correct products and installation
to $20 per package for most standard products.
Use a door sweep to stop drafts
from entering your home under an exterior door. A sweep is a flexible
piece of rubber or plastic that’s held to the door’s lower edge by a
strip of aluminum.
Cost: $5 to $35.
Find and seal gaps that
could be allowing as much as 30 percent of your heated or cooled air to leak
outdoors. These leaks add up to $300 a year to heating and cooling costs, HouseLogic says.
Pull back attic insulation
to find and seal cutouts in drywall for electrical fixtures, pipes,
fans and outlets. Also check wiring, chimneys, flues, vent stacks and
ducts, and seal them on the inside. Use caulk to fill smaller gaps and
pressurized expanding foam for bigger openings.
Cost: Caulk costs about $2 to $3
per tube. Expanding polyurethane foam runs less than $5 for a
Heated or cooled air flies up the
chimney when you leave the fireplace damper open. Make it
a habit to shut the flue after the fireplace has cooled.
Insulation keeps you home cozy
and keeps expensively cooled and warmed air indoors where
“Typically, houses in
warm-weather states should have an R-38 insulation in the attic, whereas houses
in cold climates should have R-49,” says This Old House, explaining how to install batting-type
Insulating an attic,
basement or crawl space is moderately difficult, and beginners should use a
professional. If you do, ask if you can perform parts of the job
to reduce the cost.
Admittedly, insulating is not a
cheap job. But the payback can be huge, and you may find rebates and financial
incentives. See Energy.gov’s guide to sources and to a
calculator to estimate the return on an insulation
vary, depending on factors such as insulation type, local labor costs and size
of the attic.
thermostat can save up to $180 a year on fuel costs, according to EnergyStar. The
thermostat can save fuel by automatically lowering (or raising)
your home’s temperature while you’re away. It also keeps
temperatures consistent, saving fuel.
Do not use a programmable
thermostat with a heat pump unless the thermostat is meant for use with heat
Wi-Fi-enabled “learning” thermostats are expensive — $250 and
Simpler programmable thermostats, like this $60 Honeywell, for example, are a great
deal: They offer separate programs for weekdays and weekends and let you
program up to four different periods in a day.
You can enjoy fuel savings for
free simply by setting your thermostat to one temperature in the morning,
another at night and otherwise leaving the thermostat alone. If you’re
chilly, put on a sweater and warm socks instead of raising the heat.
Learn more in the article “10 Ways to Stay Warm and Win the Thermostat Wars.” EnergyStar.gov offers more tips to save
using a manual thermostat.
Heating ducts typically waste 20
to 30 percent of the heated air they carry to leaks and poor conduction, says EnergyStar. Leaky heat ducts mean
higher utility bills and a house that’s harder to keep warm.
Appliances like water heaters and
furnaces can cause the buildup of dangerous gases like carbon
monoxide through a process called backdrafting, according to EnergyStar. Sealing leaks can
reduce this risk, but before you start the job ask a heating
contractor if you need to have a combustion safety test done first.
You won’t be able to reach all of
the ducts — some are hidden in walls, ceilings and floors. But you can
improve performance by sealing exposed ducts in the attic, crawl
space, unfinished basement and garage.
Focus on the places where
ducts, vents and registers meet floors, walls and ceilings. Use mastic
sealant or metal tape, which are more durable than duct tape, to seal the seams
Cost: Cheap. A 10-foot roll of 3M rubber
mastic tape costs $12 or less.
Dirty furnace filters reduce
furnace efficiency and push up heating bills. They also shorten the life
of a furnace.
Check and replace
the furnace filter monthly in winter or every three months while
the system is in operation. Your owner’s manual will tell you where it’s
located. Hold the filter up to the light: If you can’t see light
through it, you need a new one.
Pleated filters work best
because they trap more dirt particles.
Cost: Prices vary. Angie’s List says filters
$1 each for flat fiberglass
$10 each for pleated and polyester
$25 each for high-efficiency varieties
furnace regularly helps you catch problems before expensive
breakdowns, prolong’s the furnace’s life and keeps it running more efficiently.
Newer furnaces need professional
servicing every two years. Older units require annual servicing.
Check your furnace’s manual to
see which specific steps are recommended. Ask friends and colleagues for names
of good technicians. Find one or two you trust and stick with them.
is not a DIY job. You’ll pay $80 to $150, says home inspector and Zillow blogger Reuben Saltzman.
Save on fuel by wrapping older
water heaters in a blanket of insulation, an easy DIY project that even a
beginner can do. Your utility company has instructions. When insulating a gas
or propane water heater, do not cover the burner access.
Do not insulate:
Pre-insulated water heaters. These are newer units with
factory installed insulation of R-16 or better (check the manufacturer’s
label) under the metal shell.
Water heaters located where the added heat is welcome.
Water heaters whose manual or paperwork warns
Tankless (on-demand) water heaters.
to $30. Or possibly free: Ask your utility company for any rebates,
discounts or freebies. Some utilities offer free insulation
and may even install it.
Hot water heaters
typically are set at 140 degrees. Lower the temperature on yours to 120
for fuel savings. You’ll reduce the chance of accidental burns, and the
water still will be plenty hot for bathing, washing clothes and
Grab a tube of caulk, a can of
spray foam gap-sealer, a pencil and notepad. Tour your home, inside and
out, including the basement, to find and fill cracks and gaps in siding,
windows and foundation. Note locations of problems you can’t fix right away.
Use caulk for small cracks
and the foam sealer for bigger gaps. Inside the home use a candle
flame or digital thermometer to find where cold air is entering. Pay
attention to door frames, windows, skylights, chimneys and vents. Also check openings around
appliance vents, electrical and plumbing fixtures and furnace ducts and
check the top of basement walls where the foundation meets wood.
Cost: Caulk costs $2 to $3 per tube or less.
Expanding polyurethane foam costs under $5 for a 12-ounce can. Dummies.com tells which product to use where.
Insulate the hot-water pipes
in your basement or crawl space by snapping foam sleeves on them.
You’ll find pre-slit, hollow-core, flexible foam pipe insulation at
hardware stores. Make a note of your pipes’ diameters and lengths and bring the
measurements when you shop.
Exposed pipes waste heat by
cooling the water as it runs through them. Be sure to
include pipes between the hot-water tank and wall. Also
insulate cold-water pipes for the first 3 feet after they enter the
Cost: Prices and products vary, but a 6-foot
piece of half-inch foam insulation can be found for $2 to $3.
Set fan blades to move
clockwise in winter and run fans slowly. The idea is to lift cool air to
the ceiling and push heated air down where you can enjoy it. Some fans have a
remote control or remote switch. Otherwise, use a ladder and manually
adjust the small toggle switch on the fan body. Now set the thermostat a notch
lower and enjoy the warmth.
It’s surprising how much
insulation curtains, drapes, shades and even mini blinds provide.
Draw window coverings at night
and when you’re away to conserve heat in the home. In hot weather,
draw window coverings in the morning to keep the house cool, saving
money on air conditioning.
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